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Whitecaps finally come crashing to Earth

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Cam Weaver
Through the first four MLS matches, it was hard to find a time when the Vancouver Whitecaps looked like an expansion team. Sure, there were the numerous cards and ejections, but in terms of the on-field product, there were no real gaps.

In its 1-0 loss to Philadelphia, the Whitecaps went down a man — and the goal is still a talking point as to what constitutes a passive offside, and what doesn’t. Sure, they were down 3-0 at one point to Sporting Kansas City — in a game they rallied to get a point out of — but the Whitecaps were denied several times and could have actually had a two- or three-goal lead before SKC started scoring.

But, that streak of being decent, being good enough, came to a crashing halt Sunday. The Whitecaps and their fans can have no complaint about the result — a 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo. Indeed, you could argue that things could have been a heck of a lot worse. A four- or five-goal margin would have reflected the run of play.

Yes, the Whitecaps were filled with injuries and suspensions. Striker Eric Hassli was gone because of his red card Wednesday. And midfielder Gershon Koffie was also ruled out. Midfielder Terry Dunfield was out with a groin problem, forcing coach Teitur Thordarson to revamp his team’s engine room.

And Jay DeMerit, while starting in the centre of defence, clearly wasn’t ready. His bad groin hobbled him — and directly led to a goal — and he had to come out at halftime.

By the time Omar Salgado, the first pick in the 2011 Superdraft, came on as a late sub to make his MLS debut, the game was done. There would be no miracle rally in the Whitecaps this time.

At the start of the season, we expected the Whitecaps to struggle to find the goal, but to have a backline and midfield strong enough to make it tough for the opposition to score. Boy, was that off. The Whitecaps have proven to be a dynamic, entertaining force when going forward. Problem is, they are just as entertaining when they defend. Nothing ho-hum here.

On Sunday, Danny Cruz’s crosses from the wing proved to be consistent issues for the back line. Both Houston first-half goals came on set pieces littered with missed defensive assignments. Houston caused havoc without Brian Ching, one of the best target men in MLS, in the lineup. Imagine what would have happened had he been healthy enough to play.

Cam Weaver opened the scoring in the 37th minute after the Whitecaps markers left him totally uncovered in the penalty area off a corner kick. Bobby Boswell flicked on the corner, and it was child’s play for Weaver to convert.

Camilo drew the Whitecaps level, taking a deft pass from midfielder Davide Chiumiento, turning and then finding the goal to draw the teams even.

But, before Vancouver was finished celebrating, Houston got another corner. After Whitecaps defender Jonathan Leathers cleared out the first attempt, Cruz returned the ball into the box and Boswell, wide open, nodded it home. Boswell took advantage of the fact that DeMerit simply couldn’t pick up his run.

It ended a wild first-half sequence that saw three goals scored in five minutes.

But, as the second half elapsed in the Texas heat, it was clear the Whitecaps, unlike previous games, didn’t have another gear. Playing in the Houston heat and humidity is a draining experience. A beaten-up side that played Wednesday simply couldn’t ramp up its game.

Will Bruin scored his first MLS goal, rounding ‘Caps keeper Jay Nolly, who had come out of his box to try and beat the forward to a loose ball, to rub salt in the wounds.

But if not for a crossbar and some decent saves by Nolly, this one would have been out of hand.

So, is this game an aberration? Do the Whitecaps get a mulligan because of the rebuilt midfield and backline? Or is this the first sign of a new MLS team coming back to Earth?

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